In July, a federal jury ruled that Walmart Stores must pay $125 million to a disabled sales associate who was wrongfully terminated. The EEOC filed a lawsuit against the retail giant alleging that Walmart changed the plaintiff’s schedule, worsening attendance problems that culminated in her termination.
The EEOC announced the verdict in which the jury found that:
- Walmart knew that the aggrieved employee needed accommodation for her disability
- It would not have posed an undue hardship on Walmart to accommodate her
A spokesperson for Walmart said the company does not tolerate discrimination of any kind and routinely accommodates thousands of disabled employees every year. The company is reviewing its legal options, however, the spokesperson noted that the verdict will be reduced to the maximum amount ($300,000) allowed under the law.
What is disability discrimination?
Disability discrimination in an employment setting occurs when a disabled individual is subjected to an adverse employment action (e.g. terminated, disciplined, denied reasonable accommodation) due to an actual or perceived disability. This form of discrimination can also involve an employer refusing to hire a disabled applicant because of their protected status.
Finally, harassment of disabled employees is an unlawful form of discrimination. Harassment involves offensive comments, conducts, or displays against a disabled worker that are severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile environment.
If you have been subjected to disability discrimination or harassment, you have a right to fight an employment lawsuit to recover damages, which includes back pay, lost benefits, liquidated damages, pain and suffering, and other losses.
The Ruling Against Walmart
The jury found Walmart (1) failed to accommodate the sales associate’s disability and (2) terminated the employee due to her disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
After a new policy caused the employee’s schedule to be changed, she asked Walmart to reasonably adjust her start and end times and that she be returned to her prior schedule. The company failed to act on her request and fired her, the EEOC claimed.
The trial evidence showed that the plaintiff had consistently received positive performance reviews during her nearly 16-year work history. The bulk of the $125 million jury award was for punitive damages, the plaintiff will receive $150,000 in compensatory damages. The agency said the substantial jury verdict sends a strong message to employers that disability discrimination is unacceptable.
The substantial verdict reflects the fact that the EEOC and government prosecutors aggressively pursue disability discrimination claims. If you have been treated unfairly by an employer because of your protected status under the ADA, talk to an experienced employment lawyer.